Last night I lay awake thinking about how AI-automated writing is about to change our entire language.
Since AI can easily write everything correctly with perfect spelling and punctuation, one way to show you’re human is to do the opposite. At the time of Shakespeare, spelling was wildly idiosyncratic and people just made it up as they went along. I think this free-for-all might return soon, since it’s a neat way of showing you’re not made of silicon.
But there’s another way we might change our speech and writing to subvert our digital overlords. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: ham off a knee! It’s something chatbots can’t provide, but that we humans can understand quite easily.
I lay awake last night thinking about cryptic crossword clues (I never do crosswords, but still, that’s rumination for you!). Here’s a clue I thought up. Not a very good clue, since I don’t know what I’m doing:
“For Joyce, recovery leads to pain, we hear (15).”
The answer? “Fine again so ache”.
Doesn’t make sense to you? Well, Finnegans Wake was James Joyce’s fourth and last major work of fiction. I was thinking of it because it’s packed full of homophony (ham off a knee - get it?).
So what’s homophony? Glad you asked. Homophony is simply when you use a word that sounds like another word. But Joyce used homophones in a complex way. His sentences read one way on the page, but when spoken out loud they often mean something else, subverting the original meaning. That’s why he was a genius and I’m not.
But it also struck me that we could start doing this and AI wouldn’t be able to keep up. Admittedly it took Joyce years to finish Finnegans Wake. It’s certainly complicated to come up with whole paragraphs of homophonic writing or speech. But I suspect young people, who are always the instigators of new slang, will be quite up to the challenge.
Alternatively, it’s the new AI frontier. Imagine if you could command something like: “ChatGPT: give me a written account of a 16th Century tourist visit to Venice, which warns of impending alien attack when read out loud.”
Now that would impress me.